Public Libraries Act

In 1855, the Public Libraries Act was extended to Ireland , thanks in part to representations of the Member of Parliament for County Louth , Chichester Fortescue, M.P. In 1856, following a public meeting specially called for the purpose, the Dundalk Town Commissioners unanimously adopted the Public Libraries ( Ireland ) Act and Dundalk became only the second town in the country to do so. Cork City was the first in 1855, although Cork City Library did not open until 1892.

By 1857, membership of the Literary and Scientific Institute was down to 26 and it was agreed to dissolve the organisation and donate its collection of books to the Town Commissioners to form the basis of the Free Public Library which was opened in 1858.

Originally housed, it is thought, at 71 Clanbrassil Street, the Free Public Library later moved to the new Exchange Buildings in ‘two most commodious rooms – one for the books of the library, and the other, a large, well ventilated reading room, lighted with gas, and freely open to the public. Books are lent out to persons living within the limits of the borough at the small charge of one penny per week’ ( John D’Alton and J.R. Flanagan, The History of Dundalk (1864), p. 321).

In 1876 the average number of readers was 140 per week with 30 or so each night using the Reading Room.

In 1877, prior to Dublin adopting the Public Libraries Act, Dublin ’s Town Clerk reported to members of the Corporation that ‘Dundalk is the only place in Ireland in which a library has been established under the Acts. The rate levied for the purpose brings in about 73 per annum and subscriptions about 39. The working expenses are about 112. The library and reading rooms are open from six o’clock till 10 p.m., and on Sundays from two to ten o’clock’ ( Dundalk and its Free Library. Tempest’s Almanac, 1900, p.28).

In 1900 the library moved from the Town Hall to the Grammar School in Chapel Street where it occupied the south wing.


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